First Spanish Father-Son Encounter a joint program of diocese, OSF Healthcare

In addition to some serious talk about the transition from being a boy to becoming a man, participants at the first Spanish Father-Son Encounter took the opportunity to have have fun while being physically active on April 9. Here they are running a three-legged race. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

MAGNOLIA — Fathers and sons from Spanish-speaking communities around the Diocese of Peoria accepted the invitation to get away and spend the day together to talk about life and what it means to be a man, and to take time for prayer at the Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center here.

A pilot program for boys ages 10 to 13, the Spanish Father-Son Encounter was sponsored by the Respect Life Ministry of the Diocese of Peoria in collaboration with OSF HealthCare. It was a longtime dream of Respect Life director Cecilia Soñé, who modeled the day after the Mother-Daughter Teas for the same age group that began in March 2017.

Kneeling before the image of St. Joseph at the Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center, Father Antonio Dittmer, Father Chase Hilgenbrinck and Father Julio Faes lead participants in the prayer of consecration to St. Joseph at the first Father-Son Encounter on April 9. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Everything during the day was designed to give the fathers and sons — as well as some uncles and nephews — a chance to interact, have fun, and make “the bumpy years of adolescence a little smoother,” Soñé told The Catholic Post.

The morning was devoted to talks by Father Julio Faes, parochial vicar for the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community, and Dr. Alejandro Sanz, a general surgeon at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center in Alton. Father Julio reflected on God’s plan for the human body, while Dr. Sanz covered the emotional, physical and spiritual changes that occur during puberty.

“I also talked about things they’re going to have to face in life — maybe now, maybe later — and how they can realize when something is not right,” Dr. Sanz said. “Sometimes it’s hard to read those situations, so that’s why I think it’s good to talk to their parents about it.”


In his testimony to the young men, Jason Nava of Peoria also talked about how important it is for them to have a good relationship with their fathers, especially when curiosity about the opposite sex and peer pressure sets in.

“He is your role model. He is going to show you what it means to be a man, what it takes to follow Christ,” said Nava, an early childhood educator and musician who shares his talents at Masses in Spanish at St. Mary’s Cathedral. “I want you to take advantage of that while you still can.”

He didn’t always have that relationship with his own father, something Nava regrets. Despite everything, he loves his father and said, “I have him to thank for how I turned out today.”

He warned the young men about spending too much time on social media, saying the images that are so easy to access can make it hard to resist temptation. In the end, it could also have an impact on how they view and value women.

Nava again encouraged them to turn to their fathers and listen to that advice because it is for their own good.

After lunch, fathers and sons followed Dr. Sanz’s advice about getting plenty of physical activity by having three-legged races and playing kickball. Some remained inside and had their own bags tournament.


When everyone reconvened at 3 p.m., they headed to the retreat center chapel for eucharistic adoration, confessions, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Mass concelebrated by Father Julio; Father Antonio Dittmer, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Moline and master of ceremonies for the day; and Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, diocesan vocation director of recruitment.

Mass ended with participants consecrating themselves to St. Joseph.

In his homily, Father Hilgenbrinck sought to counter a culture that says men should be ashamed of their manhood and that there’s something inherently wrong with their manhood.

“The church says, ‘No.’ God says, ‘No. your manhood is necessary in order to express that God is alive on earth,’” he told The Post, offering a few comments in English.

“The day was not about making us less men. The church wants to make us more manly, more masculine, more of who we’re called to be,” Father Hilgenbrinck said. “Not a destructive or disordered fatherhood, but one that actually shows the presence of God in the world.”

The encounter was held on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and he said Holy Week would reveal one of the most important aspects of fatherhood.

“To be a man is to sacrifice in imitation of Jesus, who gave all,” Father Hilgenbrinck said.

Eighty-five fathers and sons accepted the invitation to spend the day together at the Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center in Magnolia on April 9 at the first-ever Father-Son Encounter sponsored by the Respect Life Ministry of the Diocese of Peoria in conjunction with OSF HealthCare. The day featured talks about adolesence and time for prayer and Mass, as well as games. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

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